Ismael Zambada Imperial, the son of a Sinaloa Cartel leader, was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico in late December to face drug trafficking charges.
Zambada Imperial was charged in 2014 in the U.S. along with his father, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, identified as one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s primary leaders, as well as a half brother and a son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. El Chapo was sentenced last year in the U.S. to life in prison.
The extradition of Zambada Imperial was earlier reported by Vice News, citing sources close to the case. Zambada Imperial entered a plea of not guilty after appearing in San Diego federal court, and his next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7, according to the court docket.
Zambada Garcia has avoided capture and was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in May 2002; he keeps a notoriously low profile. The U.S. has since designated more people and entities linked to Zambada Garcia, including livestock, construction and real estate firms.
Known as “Mayito Gordo,” Zambada Imperial had been in Mexican custody since November 2014, when he was captured by Mexican federal forces in Culiacan, Sinaloa, the stronghold of the Sinaloa Cartel. The Mexican Army had previously detained him in 2000 in the same city, but he was released weeks later after the government failed to file charges against him.
Zambada Imperial is among the nine children of Zambada Garcia, a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and a longtime associate of El Chapo. Zambada Garcia became the main leader of the cartel after the capture of El Chapo in 2017.
The Sinaloa Cartel is facing a host of different challenges, including a vigorous and violent challenge posed by the rising Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) over drug trafficking routes. The fight has caused a historic increase in homicide rates across the country and thrust the issue of security, and the Sinaloa Cartel itself, to the center of Mexican politics.
The Mexican government has attempted to respond to this pressure by trying to capture cartel leaders, to mixed success. Mexican security forces in October briefly captured Ovidio Guzman Lopez, a son of El Chapo, in Culiacan, sparking a firefight that led them to set him free. The fumbled operation exposed deep concerns in the ability of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to counter cartels effectively, and to guarantee security across the country.
Zambada Garcia, for his part, had co-opted Mexican government officials for the benefit of the cartel, according to witness testimony by his brother, a former Sinaloa Cartel leader, during El Chapo’s trial. Zambada Garcia also directed his brother to pay millions in bribes to Genaro Garcia Luna between 2005 and 2012, according to the testimony.
Garcia Luna served as the head of the Mexican intelligence agency until 2006, when he became the country’s secretary of public security and began prosecuting the country’s war on drugs. He was arrested in Dallas, Texas, on Dec. 9 on drug trafficking charges, and was later denied bail. The Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) later in December announced an investigation into Garcia Luna, according to a Mexican media report.